Business Corner

Are you spending your time rather than investing it?

By Ira Miller | December 19, 2007

The previous article in this series (Nov. '07) introduced the Miller Leadership Model. It represents five areas of responsibility a leader must call his or her own. These five core endeavors cannot be delegated. They include:

Understanding the enterprise objective;
Setting strategic priorities (to achieve the enterprise objective);
Designing organizational structure (to support the strategic priorities);
Creating infrastructure; and
Communicating effectively.

Each responsibility clearly carries its fair share of what makes an organization successful. Accordingly, if more leaders could step away from the typical day-to-day details into the "bigger picture," they would begin to see how their investment of time in these areas makes more sense. Let's look at how leaders can become more successful at leveraging their time rather than merely spending it.

Why Leverage Time? A Brief Comparison

When we "spend" money we normally expect to get two things.
1. Value equal to the amount spent. In essence, a 1:1 return on our expenditure; and
2. An immediate exchange; that is, we want our purchase now.

In contrast, when we "invest" funds we have a different expectation.
1. We want a greater return than when we spend money. In fact we expect both a return of capital and a return on capital; and
2. The timing of this return is postponed; we are willing to wait for the payoff.

In other words, by investing our money we leverage our finances. By investing our time, we can increase the effective time available to the leader.

Leaders Are Managers Too

For obvious reasons, it is not realistic to expect leaders to work exclusively within the Miller Leadership Model. The model serves as a visible representation of the leader's responsibilities-responsibilities he or she can bring into managerial situations. For example, a leader can leverage the time spent in a budget meeting by understanding that his or her attendance at the meeting relates to two of the components of the Miller Leadership Model: clear communication and maintaining everyone's focus on the strategic priorities.

One CEO I know, running a $1 billion company, would excuse himself from budget meetings once the conversation and decision-making was at the managerial level. But, before leaving, he always set the parameters for those decisions by referring to the strategic priorities for the following year.

Ralph Dean, president and CEO of Joint Purchasing Corporation (JPC) in New York City, NY, leveraged his time by reducing the time spent in meetings while communicating more effectively.

"I recently flattened our organizational structure and reorganized my meetings in the process," he explained. "Originally my only direct reports were five senior vice presidents with whom I met weekly. Now I have 11 direct reports and meet with all of them, including the senior VPs, every other week. I have fewer meetings, yet we're communicating more effectively without the repetition."

Consistently effective leaders leverage their time by seeking opportunities to reinforce the strategic priorities when in their managerial roles. They ask themselves, "Am I taking every opportunity to share our strategic priorities and comment on our progress, or am I attending to activities that can be handled just as well without me?" They support execution without having to spend their own time on execution. Therefore, one of the challenges of leadership is to know at which point to enter into crucial decisions. An example of a crucial decision is one that involves a big bet or requires a risk/reward analysis. Consistently effective leaders do the necessary planning and thinking that allows them to appear at the time they are needed most. Until then, they are confident that the appropriate people are handling the issue.

Delegating Undelegate-able Responsibilities

Time is the leader's most precious, finite asset. The key to leveraging it more effectively is to delegate as many activities as possible. Yet when a leader attempts to delegate one of these five responsibilities, confusion results. Here's an example. A manufacturer of diagnostic imaging equipment was one division of many in a large conglomerate. The parent company chose to divest itself of one third of its divisions in order to return to its core business. At the 11th hour, on a Friday, it decided to include the imaging company in the divestiture. The imaging company heard about it on Saturday, and the new strategy was announced to the investment community on Monday. The parent company's leadership changed the enterprise objective for the division, providing no time for the division's leadership to develop new strategic priorities, organization structure, infrastructure or communications. The result was total disarray in the marketplace, which de-leveraged the division's entire management team and significantly lowered the division's market value.

Strategic Planning's Role in Effective Leadership

The literature on leadership makes it appear that strategy is a leader's paramount task. So why is strategic planning not the foremost, or at least one of the components, of the Miller Leadership Model? Actually, strategy is an important communication link between strategic priorities and the organizational structure. The leader uses strategic planning as a vehicle to get the organization focused on the strategic priorities. The various outputs from the plan's analysis (environment, competition, product and gap, etc.) help the leader determine the appropriate organization structure.

At JPC, Dean encourages his people to think outside the box. "I ask them to recognize that in the long run their future lies in their own intellectual properties. Therefore, it is in their best interests to be as creative as possible," he said. "People make the world go round. They produce all the results, good, bad and indifferent. Leaders need to build an environment in which good things can happen, where honesty occurs and where issues are confronted in a non-personal, forthright manner."

A Touchstone for Investing Time

Leaders who work extensively in the business instead of on the business have not achieved a proper balance of activities inside and outside of the Miller Leadership Model. They spend too much of their time in the management role (doing things right), rather than impacting the organization's future (doing the right thing). Leaders who use the Miller Leadership Model as a touchstone, on the other hand, learn to leverage their time. They invest their time so that others can capitalize on the results; it's a domino effect that produces enormous results.

Attention Leaders: Ira Miller would like to know your opinion on the following issue. The CEOs of WorldCom and Enron originally claimed that they were not fully aware of what their accountants were doing, or that the accountants had told them everything was legal. One could suggest that one of the leadership pillars, integrity, was cracked. In addition, were these leaders also delegating an undelegate-able responsibility? If so, which of the five responsibilities of the Leadership Model was it? Please email Mr. Miller with your response at

Related Market & Technology: